Imagine, for a second, that music really does come from the proverbial hit factory: optimized and slapped with a brand, performed by franchisees. Its most state-of-the-art invention yet would probably be CamelCased futur&B duo AlunaGeorge. The Aluna half is Aluna Francis (formerly of sugary My Toys Like Me), a game if rough vocalist in the Mya/Brandy style that crossed over so nicely in 2000 and is just starting to cross over again. (See Nickelodeon star turned pop starlet Ariana Grande, who sounds unnervingly like Ashanti after drinking one of those eternal-youth potions from Stardust and who’s working with Babyface. Babyface!) Then there’s producer George Reid, her partner in laptop fiddling and an admirer of the Pharrell / Timbaland hypercube beats that those R&B soubrettes worked so well and that have also roared back into vogue. (See “Blurred Lines,” the Pharrell joint that just set the record for longest reign atop the charts.) The synthesis, too, is very much in vogue, whether it’s CHVRCHES adding a spoonful of sugar, Jai Paul a cloak of intrigue, Purity Ring making chopped salad of it all, or newcomer LIZ out-throwbacking them all. If pop’s all about turning yourself into a superlative, AlunaGeorge are definitely gunning for Most Likely to Succeed.
Tally one success already: Body Music is AlunaGeorge’s debut, but it already seems like they’ve been around forever. That’s because in Internet years, they have. Two tracks — “Just a Touch” and “You Know You Like It,” which got a spit-shine and re-release here — are from an EP released last April. (Two-thirds of the EP, in fact.) Others — “Attracting Flies,” “Bad Idea” and “Your Drums, Your Love” — are, for better or worse, highly successful blog bait, something AlunaGeorge is well suited to. They follow the trends as they come: skittery trap beats, pitch-shifting, vocals stretched like taffy. Their tracks are full of little hooks that charm upon first listen and stuffed with enough sonic fripperies to seem like they’ve got countless sounds at their command. They’re nostalgic for what everyone else is, when everyone else is. They’re always easy to like, if not quite to love. And there is so, so much to like.
That said, there’s something overly planned about AlunaGeorge’s rise. They came second on BBC’s Sound of 2013 list, which is where buzz acts go to become Adele or die. (Remember Duffy? Little Boots? The Ting Tings? They all had second albums. That’s probably news to lots of people.) Body Music was premiered piecemeal last week by “blogs that have shown us unconditional support,” which politely omits any outlets that might be more questioning. And AlunaGeorge’s list of touchstones — Timbaland, CocoRosie, PJ Harvey, The Knife — manages to come off simultaneously over-curated and lacking in deep cuts. It’s a perfectly formed hype bubble, in other words — and those often pop.
Body Music, thankfully, doesn’t pop the hype bubble. But it doesn’t exactly pop, either. The issue, it turns out, is mundane: the classic debut album foible of bundling a few good singles with, well, everything else. Their sound simply makes more sense in quick bursts than over a full-length album, where everything sounds exciting and samey. At best, Francis’ voice has a wry, wiry quality, a little like Martina Topley-Bird’s, that makes every song pricklier than it would’ve been. At worst it comes off like impromptu karaoke of Florence Welch’s impromptu (drunk) karaoke of “Get Lucky” by someone the barkeep should really have carded. Over an album’s length, the proportions start to rack up the wrong way. But more of the blame rests on George, who’s too often too enamored with his weird synth trees to write a song. Whether this is out of some fear of pop or simply misaligned priorities remains to be seen, but the results are obvious. “Best Be Believing” has about a third of a chorus. “Body Music” promises bump and grind but delivers heady headphone stuff. The midsection sags (again, the classic debut album problem); most of the “Superstar” / “Friends to Lovers” stretch is too anemic to be pop, too assertive to be chill.
But if you forget the album entirely, whip out your Spotify playlists and iPod shuffle — it’s 2013 after all — and treat Body Music as the collection of singles it is, it starts to sound pretty good again. “You Know You Like It” doesn’t quite have the stonk on the vocals or production to be the banger it wants to be, but it comes close. “Attracting Flies,” despite the awkward title, is probably their best, most fully-formed pop song. “Lost and Found,” meanwhile, is the low-key standout: it’s like Nina Sky circa “Day Dreaming” remixed by Ladytron if they had a garage phase and were also half-robot. It’s one of the few tracks that sound less like a future-pop SoundCloud tag than the future. Let’s see if AlunaGeorge can make it there.